Mario Gomez’s goal wrapped up top spot for Germany in Group C as a 1-0 win at the Parc des Princes left Northern Ireland waiting to find out their own fate at Euro 2016.
Having failed to impress in a bore draw against Poland last time out, Joachim Low’s side again struggled to hit top gear despite dominating against one of the tournament’s biggest underdogs in Paris.
Michael O’Neill’s plan to stifle the world champions always looked likely to fail, with goalkeeper Michael McGovern – who was impressive throughout – called into action several times before his defences were breached.
Gomez marked his first start in France with a close-range 29th-minute finish, while Thomas Muller hit the post and crossbar among a host of other Germany chances before the interval.
Though Northern Ireland now needed a goal to claim the point they clearly came for, it proved close to impossible for them to relieve the constant pressure.
Germany could not add to their advantage in a second half that was as one-sided as the first, but Northern Ireland will now await other results to see if their three-point return is enough to qualify as one of the four best third-placed finishers.
O’Neill’s men – unchanged from the historic 2-0 win over Ukraine – tried to present a compact and united front from the outset, positioning a wall of green between Germany and McGovern’s goal.
It was a barrier the Germans found all too easy to overcome, though, and McGovern had to be alert to deny Muller and Mesut Ozil in quick succession early on.
The post came to Northern Ireland’s rescue in the 27th minute when Muller’s diving header threatened to break the deadlock.
But the pressure finally told just before the half-hour mark, Muller drawing McGovern’s attention before laying it back for Gomez to find the net via a deflection.
Muller hit the woodwork again five minutes later as Germany looked to inflict further damage before the break.
The pattern continued in the second half, McGovern saving from Mario Gotze before the World Cup final goalscorer slid wide from inside the six-yard box.
O’Neill’s side were not entirely restricted to defensive duties, though a rare foray forward led by Steven Davis came to an end on the edge of the opposition penalty area and without Manuel Neuer being troubled.
Germany kept creating openings and Sami Khedira was next to join in the shooting practice and find McGovern in fine form, the Hamilton Academical keeper – whose contract with the Scottish Premiership club is set to expire – diving low to his right to keep the deficit to one.
If McGovern’s display had not already alerted clubs to his potential availability, his stunning 82nd-minute save from Gomez may have done the trick as the 31-year-old brilliantly tipped the Fiorentina forward’s header wide.
McGovern and his Northern Ireland team-mates will only hope it is not the last chance they have to make their mark on the tournament.
Key Opta stats:
– Northern Ireland have not conceded more than one goal in any of their last 16 internationals.
– Germany have won 13 of their last 16 games at major tournaments, drawing two and losing one (1-2 v Italy in the Euro 2012 semi-finals).
– Northern Ireland completed 110 passes against Germany, 11 fewer than Toni Kroos (121).
– Indeed, only the Republic of Ireland have completed fewer passes in a Euro finals game since 1980 (vs Netherlands in 1988 – 102 passes).
– For the first time since 1996, Germany have recorded three clean sheets after the group stage in a major competition.
– Bastian Schweinsteiger made his 15th appearance for Germany at a Euro finals, more than any other German player.
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